Julius La Rosa

Julius La Rosa

Infobox musical artist

Name = Julius La Rosa
Background = solo_singer
Born = Birth date and age|1930|1|2|mf=y, Brooklyn, New York, United States
Genre = Traditional Pop
Years_active = 1951-1972
Hit Songs = Eh, Cumpari
Label = Cadence
URL = [http://www.juliuslarosa.com/julie'sstory.html Official Julius La Rosa Web site]

Julius La Rosa (born January 2, 1930) is an American pop singer, whose reputation as a respectful and crafty interpreter of traditional pop music is still overshadowed by his controversial on-the-air firing from Arthur Godfrey's radio show in 1953.

Early years and big break

La Rosa was born in Brooklyn, New York. He joined the United States Navy after finishing high school, becoming a radioman who sang informally. The young sailor's Navy buddies managed to promote him to Godfrey---at the time one of America's leading radio and television personalities, and himself a Naval Reserve officer, whom the Navy often accommodated as a nod to the good publicity he gave the service. Godfrey, for his part, was impressed by La Rosa's singing and had him flown to New York to appear on his television show, with Godfrey ending the spot by saying, "When Julie gets out of the Navy he'll come back to see us." It was, as La Rosa discovered soon enough, a bona-fide job offer.

"Arthur Godfrey and His Friends"

Discharged from the Navy on a Friday, La Rosa went to Godfrey on the following Monday, and a week later he appeared on Godfrey's variety show. He was a regular on both the morning Arthur Godfrey Time and the Wednesday night variety show "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends". La Rosa's tenure lasted from November 19, 1951 to October 19, 1953. He was one of a number of regulars on the show, including Frank Parker, announcer Tony Marvin, Haleloke, The McGuire Sisters, The Mariners, Marion Marlowe and Godfrey's bandleader, Archie Bleyer. He also worked on other Godfrey shows during the week, and other engagements on weekends. Like the other "Little Godfreys," as the cast members were known, Godfrey discouraged La Rosa from hiring a manager or booking agent, preferring to have his staff coordinate and negotiate on La Rosa's behalf.

When Bleyer formed Cadence Records in 1952, the first performer signed was La Rosa. Cadence's first single, which was also La Rosa's first recording, was "Anywhere I Wander." It reached the top 30 on the charts, and his next recording, "My Lady Loves To Dance," was a moderate success, but La Rosa would hit gold with his third recording, "Eh, Cumpari" in 1953. It hit #1 on the Cash Box chart and #2 on the Billboard chart, and La Rosa got an award as the best new male vocalist of 1953. He became the beloved "son" in the Godfrey family---for the time being, anyway.

"That was Julie's swan song"

La Rosa's popularity grew exponentially, and his ego grew to some extent as well. At one point, La Rosa's fan mail eclipsed Godfrey's. Godfrey, too, underwent changes. In mid-1953 he underwent an early form of hip replacement surgery. When he returned to the show, he began to exhibit some erratic behavior. Though he could be truculent, this side of him began to dominate his management of the shows. He also noticed a sense of laziness and egotism among his cast members. This behavior carried on into his "Talent Scouts" broadcast. He canceled one show because he felt the talent on the show that night was not up to his standards.

Like other "Little Godfreys," La Rosa was required by Godfrey to take ballet lessons, supposedly so they could move with more polish onstage, particularly on the "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends" variety show, where dance numbers were common. A family emergency forced La Rosa to miss a lesson. Godfrey responded by posting a memo informing La Rosa he would not be needed on the show since he missed the ballet class. La Rosa, upset, tried to talk to Godfrey who ignored him. He then hired his own agent and manager: Tommy Rockwell, considered one of the best in show business. Since Godfrey refused to deal with agents or managers, insisting he would never get his shows broadcast if he had to deal with a multitude of handlers, La Rosa had painted himself into a corner.

When Godfrey received a notification letter from Rockwell regarding La Rosa's representation, he became enraged at what he felt was disloyalty. During a consultation with CBS President Frank Stanton, he suggested Godfrey release La Rosa on the air, though it remains unclear whether Stanton intended Godfrey to do so without first advising La Rosa. On the morning of October 19, after La Rosa had finished singing "Manhattan" on "Arthur Godfrey Time", Godfrey fired him on the air, announcing, "that was Julie's swan song with us." Unaware the firing was coming (or even what the phrase "swan song" meant), La Rosa tearfully met with Godfrey after the broadcast and thanked him for giving him his "break." La Rosa was then met at Godfrey's offices by his lawyer, manager and some reporters. The singer claimed he was "bewildered" by the events (Godfrey was quoted as saying, "Somebody must have told Julie to say that---he wouldn't know the meaning of a word that big"), but Rockwell was highly critical of Godfrey's behavior, angrily citing La Rosa's public humiliation.

The following day, Godfrey, amazed by the angry public response to La Rosa's firing, held his own press conference in rebuttal, alleging that La Rosa had lost the "humility" he had when he first hired him and in fact had requested he be released, a detail that would become a bone of contention between the two. A few days later, Godfrey, featured on an episode of the CBS interview show "Person to Person" hosted by Edward R. Murrow, was questioned by Murrow about the way he fired La Rosa. In response, Godfrey rambled through a monologue that made little sense.

Godfrey claimed La Rosa had requested release from his contract, the reason he'd consulted Stanton about him in the first place. La Rosa flatly denied this. Some, however, say Godfrey simply called Stanton to angrily report La Rosa's apostasy in hiring a manager and agent. Stanton, for his part, never substantiated Godfrey's claims that La Rosa wanted to leave, claims which came from Godfrey alone. The CBS executive said at the time that Godfrey contacted him, that Stanton suggested announcing La Rosa's departure on the air, a far cry from suggesting he be "dismissed on the air" per se. Stanton also declared that "maybe (the entire strategy) was a mistake." Rumors also circulated La Rosa had incurred Godfrey's wrath because of jealousy for dating Dorothy McGuire of the McGuire Sisters; Godfrey was said in this rumor to be particularly fond of her.

Given the blend of aw-shucks earthiness and ego Godfrey regularly showed on his broadcasts, traits audiences considered part of his appeal, the La Rosa firing forever altered the public perception of Godfrey, making his declarations the singer had "lost his humility" seem disingenuous and hypocritical given Godfrey's undeniable ego. Over time, the more Godfrey addressed the subject, even though he was careful to praise La Rosa, the more the host damaged his beloved public image. The matter might have faded sooner had Godfrey simply quit discussing it. Comedians began working the phrase "no humility" into their routines, essentially holding Godfrey up to public ridicule for the first time in his career, while La Rosa appeared the wronged, righteous victim. Singer Ruth Wallis, known for her raunchy double entendre novelties, recorded "Dear Mr. Godfrey," a biting satire on the matter, which made it to #25 on the Billboard charts in November of 1953. Days after firing La Rosa, Godfrey also fired bandleader Archie Bleyer, owner of La Rosa's label Cadence Records.

Later career

The firing did not hurt La Rosa's career in the short run, however. Immediately afterwards, "Eh, Cumpari" became a major hit, followed by "Domani." Ed Sullivan immediately signed La Rosa for appearances on his CBS Toast of the Town TV variety show, which sparked a nasty feud between him and Godfrey. La Rosa's first appearance on Toast of the Town following the firing got a 47.9 Trendex rating, and La Rosa would appear 12 more times on Sullivan's show that year. Sullivan compounded the animosity by signing other "Little Godfreys" who'd been fired, declaring that if Godfrey were fired, Sullivan would try to sign him as well. The ongoing controversies and subsequent firings of other "Little Godfreys," as well as some of Godfrey's controversial antics while piloting his airplanes, damaged Godfrey's public reputation though he remained a regular TV personality until 1959 and on radio until 1972. Only his successful 1959 battle with lung cancer softened his negative image.

La Rosa, who worked in musical comedy and nightclubs, was incessantly questioned about the firing through the remainder of his career. He eventually moved on to a long-time disk jockey position at New York's WNEW and continued to sing and occasionally record. The Godfrey affair always remained close by, though in later years, as Godfrey was all but forgotten except by nostalgia and vintage broadcasting buffs, a mature, seasoned La Rosa established himself as a fine singer of American popular tunes in the mold of Tony Bennett.

In 1980 Godfrey's advisors, aware that Godfrey had wanted to return to television, tried to organize a reunion show of the old Godfrey cast that would feature as its high point, Godfrey's public reconciliation with La Rosa. La Rosa, who had met Godfrey cordially on the streets of Manhattan some years earlier, agreed to the idea. But at a preliminary meeting Godfrey, unable to let go of the past, foolishly revisited his claim La Rosa had requested to be released from the show. When La Rosa again denied that and reminded Godfrey of the events as he recalled them, Godfrey exploded. La Rosa walked out of the office, ending the meeting. The reunion never took place. Godfrey died in 1983.

After Godfrey

La Rosa had a three times a week television series, "The Julius La Rosa Show", during the summer of 1955, featuring Russ Case and his Orchestra. The short-lived series lasted only 13 weeks.

In the 1980s, Julius La Rosa had something of a return when he appeared in a non-contract, recurring role in the NBC soap opera "Another World". He has also been a frequent contributor to comedian Jerry Lewis's marathon annual Labor Day telethon programs for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, often hosting the New York outpost of the shows.

La Rosa today

La Rosa has tired of revisiting the Godfrey affair, in part because it's been rehashed so many times, but he's been known to declare publicly that Godfrey was indeed his discoverer and the individual who made his career, but always adding, "he wasn't a very nice man." The Godfrey affair may shadow him, but the acclaim his singing has engendered in recent years prove that the talent Godfrey originally saw indeed was real. La Rosa, superbly profiled by Gene Lees some years ago, has continued to work clubs and record albums that show his greater maturity and skills as a jazz vocalist, talents honed over half a century. La Rosa was inducted into the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2008.

External links

* [http://www.juliuslarosa.com/julie'sstory.html Julius La Rosa] Official website
*imdb name|id=0488485
*tvtome person|id=8783|name=Julius La Rosa

NAME=La Rosa, Julius
DATE OF BIRTH= January 2, 1930
PLACE OF BIRTH= Brooklyn, New York

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